Finding the perfect home can be a long and arduous process, but if you find the right one and it's governed by a Homeowner Association or HOA, many questions might arise in your mind, such as will the arrangement work out well for you. It very well could; however, you need to know for sure before you sign on the dotted line. Here are five ways to help you make this very important decision, as you get to know more about living within an HOA community.
1. Have an Open Mind
Especially if you've never lived an any type of housing that's governed, this could seem like quite a change for you. Consider, though, that there are approximately 68 million Americans living under similar circumstances, so this could very well work out for you and your family. Wherever you live now, you still abide by local tax codes and building regulations and are required to meet at least some obligations, even if you rent an apartment. The main difference with HOA is that you'll be able to see and talk to the people behind the orderly way of doing things.
Compare the benefits the HOA offers against living in an unregulated community: No late night noise, restrictions on dangerous dog breeds, high standards for yards and home exteriors, a close-knit community that looks out for its own and most likely, you'll have access to amenities that really make life worth living, among many other possible advantages.
2. Scrutinize the HOA
As a potential home buyer, you should be entitled to view important documents that will tell you a lot about the HOA governing the property. Ask to see Minutes from recent meetings, for example, and paperwork, listing the rules and regulations. You might also be privileged to financial disclosures, such as how much cash the Association has on hand and what, if any, improvements to the property are in the works.
Viewing these documents will give you a good idea of how the particular HOA is run, by whom and what the consequences of living under it will be. Picture yourself as a member of the community and what it might be like to live there. It could be a completely new way of living than what you're use to, but nonetheless, a very structured and satisfying way to peacefully coexist in a beautiful neighborhood.
3. Attend a Meeting
Some Homeowner Associations will allow you to sit quietly in one of their monthly meetings, under the guise of a prospective member. It would behoove you to attend, although this may not be the time and place for inquiries. Take all the information in and get a good feel for how the organization is run, keeping in mind that you'll likely be required to attend such gatherings in the future, if you purchase the home. An in-person scope will tell you much more than what is visible on the documents you'll be signing.
4. Ask a Lot of Questions
Your realtor or an HOA representative should be able to answer all of the questions you have regarding what it's like to actually live under the special rules and regulations. Keep in mind that the HOA has full legal authority to enforce all of their stipulations; you won't be able to slide anything by them later, even as a paying member. It's best to write down a list of questions as they come to you, so no detail is missed.
Start with the following basic items and elaborate from there with your own concerns:
- What is the monthly dues?
- What's included for the fees? (Water, landscaping, snow plow/shoveling, insurance, trash pick-up, etc.
- How are members counseled if they break a rule?
- What are the fines for late dues or code violations?
- Is there an appeals process?
5. Talk to People Who Live There
If you've gone through the process of meeting an HOA member and examining the rules, but still aren't quite certain how the situation might work out for you and your family, visit the complex or neighborhood and watch for existing homeowners to pass by. Ask them if they'd mind answering a few questions and giving you the lowdown on what it's really like to live there.
If you happen to catch a very friendly person, you'll learn all about temperaments, tolerances and how meeting the rules and regulations on a daily basis feels. The first-person perspective should make up your mind, one way or the other.
Hopefully, the HOA involved with your potential new home offers you even more reasons to want to move in, as they can be very beneficial to any neighborhood. Introduce yourself and get to know them better first, but you're very likely to conclude that the situation provides the happily ever after you're looking for.